Reading Face (Ewing, 2008), I suddenly realised the required difference of approach between art portraiture and commercial portraiture that I am perhaps more familiar with. Instead of apologetically trying to make photographs that people will like, art photography has a different mindset – that of seeking to peel back the ‘veneer’ of the mask, makeup or fake smile to reveal the ‘real’ person undernearth.
Yes, it is important to establish trust with the subject through openness, integrity and good ethics towards photography. But also I have a right – a responsibility I might argue – to get the photographs that I want. It’s ok to experiment, change my mind direct the shoot and try to peer beneath the mask…and capture what I might be privileged to see. That’s my role as an art student. Not just to make them want to buy a print for the wall.
Writing it down in a reflective way makes this all so obvious. But I can see how I’ve been so ingrained (for decades) in thinking that, above all else, I have an over-riding social / professional duty to produce work that the customer likes. This stifles my creativity. It feeds my fear of being ok to be experimental rather than on the safe side. Seminars are geared towards creating ‘portraits that sell’.
A small thing. But something that has helped reorient how I approach my work
Ewing goes on to explore this portrait, Anastasia, by Inex van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin which can be found on page 75 and online at:
He argues that, at first sight, we are viewing an ‘elegant, refined, Versailles-like decadance, this delicate waif of a woman’. However, upon closer inspection the mask is not actually a mask at all but black make up. A mirror rather than a mask? Is the viewer really looking at a ‘mirror reflecting male lust’ (ibid, p74)? Clearly this is a carefully constructed portrait image driven by a vision of the photographer to express a personal vision and explore the viewer’s gaze, rather than to produce a portrait that the subject was ‘happy with’.
Ewing, W.A. and Herschdorfer, N. (2008) Face: The new photographic portrait. London: Thames & Hudson.